The funny thing is, that once you start to think about something, the more you hear about it from other sources, or the more you see things related to it. Or in my case the more intrigued I become about it.
Take a car as an example. You want to buy a new one, you research it, test-drive it, and then you buy it. For an instance you allow yourself to believe you are the only person in the world driving this make and model. You are in fact a genius. Yet no sooner are you out of the showroom than every other car you pass is the same as yours. How can it be, when only an hour ago there were none? Has your single purchase sparked a deluge of sales? Have you in fact triggered a change in the car industry for the common man?
Ok, so I’ve gone off at a bit of tangent with regards to what I really wanted to talk about, but it might make sense in a minute. I’ve just finished reading Time and Time again by Ben Elton. For me it was a brilliant read. A time travelling story about Hugh Stanton who is offered the opportunity to go back in time to change one single thing for the greater good. In this instance the moment is pre-determined for him. He is to return from 2024 to 1914, where he is to stop WW1 from starting.
Typically I don’t read time traveling novels of any form. But as I finished this one, so I was told about Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, which while not time travelling as such, does play with the notion of being reborn repeatedly.
And then, even before I had finished Time and Time Again, I was already asking myself and my husband a couple of questions.
- What sort of world would we be living in if the war had been prevented?
- What would you change if you were offered the chance to change one thing?
To answer the first question, one can only surmise that either all would be good, or the poop would have hit the fan. I argued that even if the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand had been prevented on that day, it was likely it would have happened on another, as would the subsequent war. The mood was set after all, and it was only a matter of time. In effect a time traveller would only prevent the eventuality. The book incidentally offers a theory. One that I’m rather glad never materialized.
As to question 2. What would I change and what would my husband change? The book really got me thinking about this, because the butterfly effect can be considerable if one is to believe the reality of time travel even exists. We banded about the typical of studying harder and pursuing different careers, living in different countries, taking the chance of purchasing that house that was way out of our price bracket and so on. And each time I found myself considering that if I had not moved for example to South Africa, I would not have had my children, nor married my husband, or even had the opportunity to take a tandem skydive. All clichéd, yet true.
So ok, you could suggest I go back to visit and merely observe a moment in history. Well if you use the book for example, where Hugh is there to stop Ferdinand’s death, if we were to change the plot ever so slightly to believe he is only there to live through the mad moment and do nothing, what would transpire? Evidently more than you realize. Hugh, only moments away from the assassination, innocently buys a flower from a peasant girl, supplying her more money than she has ever had before. Such a kind gesture, yet significant, because by doing so, she stops to buy food, bumps into the assassin and stops Ferdinand’s death. Imminent war is gone, and long term it is disastrous as Hugh struggles to correct, and in turn magnify the butterfly effect.
Of course we can simplify this and put forward a simple decision to go back to when your Great-Aunt Edith died after a large brussel sprout was lodged in her throat during a Sunday lunch some years ago. She was a dear old girl and nobody wanted her to end her life this way. You go back, whack her on her back and she lives for another ten years, leaving you all her money and a soggy white cat. Lovely. But, have you thought that by doing this you didn’t allow your estranged Great-Aunt Milly to attend the funeral of her sister and ultimately be welcomed back into the family, taking her from poverty to live her life in comfort, along with her long-lost false teeth you found at the bottom of the laundry basket when clearing out her house?
After much debate and considerable regard to brussel sprouts, I find that no matter how much I think about my life and what I would love to go back and change, it seems to me, I would be doing myself a disfavour in doing so.
Sadly I find I would have to leave Great-Aunt Edith to her brussly demise, and further enjoy the chance to witness Great-Aunt Milly take pleasure in being able to gnaw her way through a further ten years of sinew and bone.